“Snow?” said my wife.
“Snow,” I said.
“You’re joking,” she said.
So I showed her the newspaper headline, which read: “Alabama Winter Storm Warning Issued: Up to 4 Inches Expected Tonight.”
“Snow in Alabama,” my wife said. “Have mercy.”
The paper went on to explain that a strong cold front was going to hit Birmingham on Friday, bringing a round of rain, possible storms and snow to central and northern Alabama.
And while I realize snow isn’t a big deal to most people in the continental U.S., to my wife and I this is an event which carries the same importance as, say, the installation of a new pope.
My wife texted everyone she knew.
We are from the Florida Panhandle. And Panhandle people like us have only seen snow a few times in our lives.
Back in 1977, for example, my uncle Tommy Lee reportedly saw “white stuff” falling in Okaloosa County, whereupon he called the sheriff’s office and reported that the unidentified substance was cold and flavorless, with no discernable psychoactive effects.
Sheriff’s deputies told him to remain calm, and whatever he did, not to touch the stuff. In a few moments, Uncle Tommy Lee was standing on his rooftop holding a large enamel mixing bowl over his head, catching snow and singing “Bringing in the Sheaves.” He slipped and fell. They buried him with his bowl.
Another time it snowed in December of 2003. I know this because my wife and I were married that same month. Our family was excited that we might see flurries on the day of our wedding. My cousin gave me snow chains as a wedding gift.
Technically, it snowed a few days after our wedding. But you couldn’t see the snow with your naked eye. In fact, the only people who actually saw the snow were Florida State research scientists who used a neutron microscope.
Then there was the year it snowed on Christmas morning in the Panhandle, back in 2004. A once-in-a-lifetime event for a native Floridian. This was nothing short of ethereal.
My wife and I were newlyweds. We crawled atop the roof of our doublewide and held each other tightly beneath the snowfall. Below us, our neighbors celebrated by sipping SOLO cups of Fireball whiskey and playing Skynyrd on their Camaro stereo.
That week, our frontpage read, “I’m Dreaming of a White County,” accompanied by a picture of our mayor wearing a Hawaiian shirt, holding a snow shovel triumphantly over his shoulder.
Snow in Birmingham. Have mercy.
At the supermarket today, everyone was talking about the upcoming blizzard. There was a moderate thrum of excitement in the air.
I was standing in the deli line when I met an elderly woman with white hair and skin like crêpe paper. Granny asked if I’d heard about the snow.
“Oh, I just love snow,” Granny said. “I remember the blizzard of ‘66, I was 23 years old when it hit Birmingham, the ground outside our carport was covered with eight inches.
“I remember I wrote a letter to my husband, he was stationed in Vietnam, I sent him a photograph of me standing in our yard, I was wearing a bikini.” Then she giggled. “I was so cold if I would have fallen, my bathing suit would have shattered.”
Another guy standing in line chimed in.
“Yeah, I remember that year. I was a little kid. School was canceled for a long time. I think some people actually died in that snowstorm.”
The employee slicing meat behind the deli counter said, “People did die. It was really bad. My daddy used to drive a bus for the City of Birmingham back in the ‘60s. He said that one time that year, the snow got so bad that cars in traffic were stuck on the roads. His bus had to pull over to let stranded people onboard.
“Daddy said people from nearby vehicles all crowded onto the bus just to keep warm. After a few minutes, the bus was crammed full of people from other cars, everyone started sharing their lunches, trying to distract themselves by singing songs until help finally came along.”
We all paused and smiled at the thought of strangers befriending one another, singing songs in the middle of a snowstorm.
“Those were different times,” said Granny, heaving a sigh. “Every day, I pray that people will be nice to each other like that, instead of all this fussing and fighting I see today.”
“Yeah,” said the guy in line.
“Yeah,” said the deli employee.
For a few moments we were silent. And it occurred to me that, at least within the confines of our little single-file deli line, Granny’s prayer had indeed come true.
Snow in Alabama.